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The History of the City and Its Jewish Community {cont.}

Kornig (the former District Treasurer), and also after the war, a senior official in the film company “Ofah,” a liberal person and pleasant to all creatures, and a critical attitude to his superiors. The city treasurer Azriel, a Berlin factory-owner, showed himself to be more “German” – an assimilated Jew.

We already mentioned the mixed local militia, in both meanings: mixed – Jews and Christians together, and also, not of the same skin morally. After Zelig Ilotovitz resigned from the position of head of the militia, Shlipotchnik (the son of Leizer Mendel the Feldsher) received this position – who from then (and still after the war) was called by the name “The Chef” in Lida.

After everything, when we take into account the emergent nature of the time, it is possible to say that the days of the German conquest in Lida were days of relatively quiet life, especially in the first two years (1915-1917). The front was far from the city, and was located somewhere along the length of the Barzina River. Lida remained far in the rear, restful water for the army garrison that was encamped in it, and a place for recuperation and relaxation for the soldiers who came for leave from the front lines. Admittedly, out of concern for the good feelings of the soldier, the Germans “of then” (nevertheless, to distinguish them from the Germans of the year 1939), took many actions that were also of benefit to the civilian population; first and foremost, the vaccination of the residents from infectious diseases, diligence about the cleanliness of the drinking water, and the installation of closed pumps in place of open wells, which were easily infected, meticulousness about the cleanliness of the yards and streets in the city, improvement of the city park and even - the establishment of a properly equipped firefighting station, with a regular guard of professional firefighters from among the soldiers. The city became filled with tea houses that popped up as they were, and cafeterias in the city (one of the main sources of income that remained for the residents with the quieting of normal economic activity), a few of them quite fancy for a town like Lida, which received their supply from the government warehouses, beverages, flour and sugar for cakes and the like (“Viener Café,” Levinson's coffee house, the “soldiers' home.”) All of this was, of course, for the soldiers. Yet the local youth and the adult “landlords” also benefited from the sounds of music emerging from these houses, in which young musicians, who on the heels of the war remained outside of the conservatories, played.

The drama group, which was organized still a few years before the First World War (and in which at that time Temima (Frumtza) Yudelevitz, (afterwards an actress in “HaBimah”)[162] participated, renewed its activity under Tzidrovitz's leadership, assembled around itself a group of young men and women, a few of whom had outstanding dramatic abilities (Tzidrovitz himself, Yukuv, Katz, Chaim Kiblevitz, Frumberg) and presented to the Lida community performances that achieved great success. Out of the jealousy of scholars,[163] an additional troupe arose, one of the workers' groups, headed by the talented young man Yaakov Dvoretzky, may his memory be for a blessing, which won many followers.

In the “HaZamir” club, social banquets were held, with the participation of an amateur choir, which was organized by Moise Dvoretzky, may his memory be for a blessing, and orchestra of string instruments.

A group of Zionist teachers held children's parties that included presentations and recitations in Hebrew (in addition a few recitations were in German, as a “charm” against the evil eye), and songs by a children's choir, conducted by the musical teacher Sheiman. Sometimes the military band also participated in these banquets.

The opinion of the world community was also important to the Germans. And when a group of Scandinavian journalists came to Lida, to see the lives of the population in the conquered territory up close, a folk festival was held under the open sky, in the city park, with the participation of a military orchestra, and various attractions, among them a rich buffet at folk prices. The journalists returned satisfied…

So it was that the Jews of Lida attempted to forget their plight, their longing for the families that migrated to Russia, for sons that were found somewhere on the fronts of the war, or in Russian or Austrian captivity. And there were many of these.

Zionist activity had almost entirely quieted down. Almost – for the mentioned cultural activity was entirely in a Zionist spirit. The Hebrew library also continued with its activity, due to the volunteer youths, principally Eizik Dvoretzky, may his memory be for a blessing, under the guidance of his older brother, Berl, may he be distinguished for a long life. With the help of volunteer teachers, lessons in Hebrew for adults were held. Participating in the activity were Ze'ev Lando, may God avenge his blood,[164] and Moshe Epstein, may he be distinguished for a long life, as teacher.

The conquest gave the Jews of Lida the opportunity to meet the German Jew up close. Hundreds of Jewish soldiers were arriving in Lida for leave on the festivals of Israel, and were housed with the Jews of the city and prayed in the local synagogues, led by the military rabbis. They say that the fruits of these meetings ripened after a while, and revolutionized the way of thinking of the German Jews. But in those years of war, it was doubtful if matters reached an intimate closeness. The atmosphere of war obliged distance and caution, and did not enable heart to heart conversation.

Among the army rabbis that visited Lida in those years were Dr. Rosenheck and Dr. Vinter, may his memory be for a blessing. The former also participated in a memorial held for Rabbi Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, in the Lida cemetery on the memorial day of his death, and even was among the speakers on that occasion.

Among the distinctive personages of German Jewry who visited Lida in that period was the famous artist, Professor Tzvi Hermann Struck.[165] He painted the Lida market above the porch of the house of the Gorfung family.

Within an atmosphere of war and conquest, a modest ceremony was held to appoint the rabbi of Lida: Rabbi Aharon Rabinovitz, may God avenge his blood, was chosen as the heir to the rabbinic seat of his famous father-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Reines, may his memory be for a blessing. There were also those who were opposed to the determination of this choice at that time, in the absence of the son of the deceased rabbi, Reb Duber Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, who at that time was in Russia. But that fact, specifically, strengthened the position of the Rabbi Reb Aharon's supporters: the fact of his remaining with the community at a time of trouble and distress and the degree of devotion that he revealed in those days. And indeed, with the purity of his qualities, with his brave stance and great humility as one, Reb Aharon showed himself worthy of the crown that was placed upon him.

Despite the tremendous impression from the German war machine, the Jews of Lida saw the conquest as one of the fleeting events of the war. This was the view of the masses of the nation. The masses of farmers in the area were also of this opinion, and did not willingly accept the new coin – the German mark. Apparently to the “voice of the crowd” a considerable amount of weight was given to determining the value of the coin, and the Russian ruble, whose value was determined by some secret stock market at 1½ marks, remained the coin given to the merchant the whole time.

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Happy was the one who had accumulated new “clean” rubles (in the jargon of the money market, they were called “knak”), which could stand a long time in the face of the changes of the time, and whose value in the market was stronger than the bills that were worn out from use, especially those that, from much folding, had a hole in the middle (whose professional nickname was “nadleshtach”). Deft youth specialized in repairing the old bills, which looked like new. The head of these artisans was immediately crowned with the name “Mark Markovitch,” since he also exchanged them for various monies. This was one of the unusual professions that were created as a consequence of the abnormal times.

Less accepted was the new coin that the occupation authorities had issued specially for the territories of the east by means of a special bank that they established which resided, apparently, in Kovno. Counterfeiters were quickly found who printed these bills in large quantities, and lowered their value even more.

In the cultural arena no serious attempt was made to impose German culture. Only in the national school, which was founded with the help of a group of Hebrew teachers, did a German “Shulmeister[166] in an army uniform teach the German language (according to what was remembered, he also led the German method of punishment, especially with a ruler). But the staff of local teachers (Shimen, Yehuda Fimosvitz, Yakir Lando, and others) continued in the tradition of Hebrew education, in living spoken Hebrew. The teacher Shimen, who acquired a name for himself at the dramatic-musical banquets that he held with his children (who were also joined by older youths from outside of the school), and whose Hebrew-Zionist content was out of the sight of the authorities (or they ignored it), did great things.[167] The older youth, who prepared for the continuation of learning, were diligent about learning the Russian language and general studies from private teachers, students and out-of-work graduates of Russian gymnasia, with the help of Russian textbooks that were still found in abundance in the bookstores. The local library (The Bergman Library), most of whose books were Russian, also renewed its activities, with the help of the office of the “Burgermeister,” who engaged in it two librarians, Yosef Darshan, may his memory be for a blessing, and Yosef Spielkovski, may God avenge his blood.

An attempt to open a Jewish German gymnasium was made only in the year 1918, when the Germans, who were encouraged and strengthened by the “Brisk Front,” began to think seriously about annexation of the region to Germany. This attempt (apparently the fruit of the initiative of Moshe Kantor and Moshe Greenspan), did not take off, and the Director that was invited from Germany (Dr. Kenigsberger?) returned to his birthplace together with the conquering army.

During the time of the conquest, the Jews of Lida lived as if they were folded inside their shells, without any contact with the outside world. The local newspaper, which was published by the military command (the “Ober Ost”), “Di Vocht Im Ostin,” and the Vilna “Tag,” which had scanty information, served only as a small window on the world outside of the area of the conquest. The echoes of the great events that took place in Russia from the beginning of 1917 arrived fragmented and dim. Yet not all the information arrived here from the awakening surrounding the Jews of Russia on the heels of these events, and especially, with the publication of the Balfour Declaration[168] at the end of that year. With a certain bewilderment and disbelief the Jews of Lida read, therefore, in “Di Vocht Im Ostin” distorted and bastardized information in the matter of a “Zionist government,” for the land of Israel that arose in England, and its members, among the rest, “Faim Sokolov” (apparently, a conflation of the names Chaim Weizmann and Nachum Sokolov), as the Foreign Minister and to Lord Rothschild as the Treasury Minister, etc. To our regret, a copy of this edition does not remain in our hands, and its date is also unknown to us.

February 1918. A special issue of the “Vocht Im Ostin” reports on the Brisk front. There is rejoicing among the Jews of Lida. The essence of the name “Bolsheviks” had not yet been properly interpreted and the attitude towards them had not yet been determined. In any case, the Jews were proud of Trotzky, although apprehensive about the attitude of the gentiles. The carpenter Nipravsky stands in the streets of the city and explains to the village gentiles in his distinct Russian language, which is full of rolling r's, the content of the news and adds: “Bravo Trotzky, Molodetz[169] Trotzky!” Hundreds of Jewish families, who went to Russia in 1915, return to Lida and bring full information of what is being done in Russia. Among the returnees, there are many youths with clear political consciousness, nourished by extensive and intensive propaganda of all the parties, whose activity was previously underground. All this is fermenting, arousing.

The Germans are still strong, and are even preparing to annex the conquered territories to Germany. But the signs of the upcoming revolution are already felt in the air. There are rumors of the retreat on the western front. Meanwhile the lack of food supply is increasing. The government stocks have thinned out, and the flour that was allocated to residents of the city is mixed with the addition of God knows what. The bread is whole grain bread mush, filled with prickly chaff that sometimes gets stuck in the throat, and requires help from a doctor to get it out. To the petition of the elder Yeruchmanov, “how would the residents be able to exist under these conditions?” the Stadt Hauptman Albers[170] replied with German arrogance: “with air and love…”[171] For the German soldiers too, their lot did not improve and their abundant table from the previous years was forgotten. Those with initiative hunted for the frogs in the lake of the public park, and with shotguns, stray cats, whose numbers had decreased significantly. Reverence for the German soldier decreased among the population. Confidence also decreased. In the town of Beilitza an attack on Jewish residents was made by robbers (according to the hypothesis – deserting Russian soldiers and officers that wandered in the forests of the area). The merchant Yasinovski was murdered in this attack. The German soldiers who were in the town (reservists, apparently), hid in their corners and did not dare to get involved. And on one clear day (more correct – on a cloudy November day), a special edition of the “Vocht Im Ostin” appeared, and on its front page was a headline that was written in extra-large letters:[172] “The Kaiser had a good night” which is to say, they are saying that the Kaiser had died. The information was confirmed, and matters began to develop quickly.

The Germans prepared for departure. A council of soldiers was established (“soldenrat”), whose principal function was, in essence, to organize this departure. The soldiers were not seen on the streets except in groups, and armed. The atmosphere was full of fears. There was a threat of attack from gangs of robbers who wandered somewhere (the attack is remembered in Beilitza). A group of released Jewish soldiers organized an armed local militia. The weapons were obtained from the warehouses of the Germans, who began to distribute leftover military equipment, to each man according to his personal inclination, to Poles and to Jews, for the needs of self-defense. Suspicious traffic was reported in the local market, and after an organized hunt, a not insignificant number of suspicious armed types were found and placed in detention, among them, as we said, the robbers of Beilitza.

This period of the crumbling of the German administration was an unbroken awakening of the Jewish public, party activity of all colors of the rainbow, and especially – arguments about an elected Jewish communal organization and its program. From the national camp there especially stood out the young student

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Y.P., the son of a wealthy flour merchant, who returned with his parents from Russia, a place where he took an active part in the Zionist movement. On the left side, he took a place at the head of the Levin Society, a worker who was brought from Lodz by the Germans to one of their workhouses, a member of “The Workers of Zion Left” party, who had a polished tongue; even his opponents enjoyed his talent for speaking.

Political arguments also took place among the Jewish youth, who organized in a “Youth House” (Dom Yuneshstava – in Zeitchik's house). The argument about the style of this club: non-partisan, according to those who were inclined to the left, or national, as suggested by Zionist educators, who maintained there was no conflict in this with non-partisanship, was commonplace in tens of gatherings, an argument among those between 15 – 17 years old, naïve, friendly, but uncompromising. A solution was not found for the argument. Time solved it – in a standoff, with the entry of the Russian army into the city.


The Entry of the Bolsheviks

The Polish army, which began to organize itself with the German conquest, had not yet had time to reach Lida. Meanwhile, The Red Army advanced from the east, on the heels of the Germans, who were gradually retreating from the conquered territories. The Jews of Lida were afraid because of the following three-fold anxiety: the fear of zero rule and anarchy amid the raging sea of a murderous horde, fear of the Poles, who were generally known as haters of Israel, and worry about Soviet rule, a trace of whose essence was already stealing into the ears of the Jews of Lida from those returning from Russia.

Different from this was the mood of the group of Jewish communists, who impatiently anticipated the coming of the Red Army, and when it became known to them that it was found not far from the city, even sent a delegation to the headquarters to say: advance and come, lest the Polish legions that are organizing in the area precede you. And on one warm winter evening of 1918, the first units of Russian foot soldiers were seen on the snowy main street (Vilneska). And the Jews of Lida received those who arrived, at the end of the matter, with a sigh of relief; finally, some kind of government, and they were freed from the fear of gangs.

The Russian army advanced past Grodno. Meanwhile in the city a “Revokum” got ready (Revolutionary Committee – a revolutionary council), headed by the Belorusian communist Seigin (finally, Belorussia), and among his friends the Polish Kolasinski, a member of the Russian Soviet Revolutionary party (the communists still included representatives of other parties in their government). A few of the Jewish communists are remembered by us: Yukuv (apparently, the secretary of the Revokum), who guarded the ember as early as the year 1905, Yanovski, the medic of the Beit HaMidrash, innocent and passionate, and the representative of the weaker sex, a young student, from a Zionist family, who is still remembered by many from Lida for her passionate speech from the stage of the “Nirvana” cinema.[173]

Over the course of about half a year the Jews of Lida were able to breathe the atmosphere of the Russian Revolution, in tens of propaganda rallies (“meetings”) and informational gatherings. Sometimes members of other parties from outside of the Communist party also appeared as debaters – then more was allowed… the Levin Society, the eternal rival of the nationalist Jewish groups, was suddenly found in a dispute with the extreme left. The Zionists did not obtain permission to speak. The matter became a little dangerous - and without a result.

With the entry of the Russian army, the Russian language returned to Lida, from upon the speakers' podium, morning and evening, from upon the pages of hundreds of propaganda brochures with which the city was flooded. A Russian gymnasia was opened even before that, in the last year of the German conquest, by Moise Dvoretzky, a student of the Psycho-Neurological Institute in Peterburg, directed by the Polish chemical engineer, Stanfinski was his name, and a friend of young teachers, who were also Jewish teachers who had stopped their studies due to the war and the revolution. But whose heart went after learning in those stormy days, when the street was crowded with soldiers, the band was playing “The Internationale, ” and the orators were orating… The students of the gymnasia also revealed their revolutionary spirit in their presentation in a nationalist banquet the musical history of “Ivanov Pavel,” which made fun of the old Russian school and its conservative teachers, and especially – the letter “yat…”[174] And between the walls of the gymnasia an argument was conducted between the students (of the fifth and sixth grades) on the nullification of the old grading system, which had five marks, from 1 to 5, which was intended to encourage the students. Those who were advanced in their knowledge moved forward with a method of only two grades: adequate, and not adequate. They did not inquire about the knowledge of the teachers, of course…


The High School Founded by Moshe Dvoretzky (in the 1920s)


More than a few of the Jewish youth were swept up in the stream of communist propaganda. A few also joined the Red Army, among them the young Nipurbeski, who was distinguished afterwards in the battle over Lida against the Polish army. The Zionist movement, which also had a socialist version, went quiet and hid among the baggage.[175] Hebrew speaking, which was also customary among the Zionist youth groups in Lida even in the days of the German conquest, also went quiet.[176] A few of the “bourgeois” were required to submit a high contribution, and in the meantime they were detained in the local prison.

Together with all of Russia, Lida hungered and lived for propaganda, which ceased to interest most of the members of the public, except for ardent communist groups.


The Entry of the Polish Army

Meanwhile the advancement of the Red Army was stopped. In Warsaw the Polish government became established, and its army went on the attack. On the eve of Pesach

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5679 (1919), the Polish army reached the approaches to Lida. After an extended cannon battle, when the shells were high over the houses of the city, strong battles developed in the streets of the city, when soldiers of the Red Army were raining rifle fire and machine guns on the advancing Polish soldiers from every street corner and the porches of the houses.

On the first day of Pesach, the Polish army was in control of the city. Its first act was – pogroms against the Jews. The pretext was – the Jews were Bolsheviks; Jews of the city threw boiling water on the heads of the Polish soldiers. This was a despicable plot, of course. Indeed, a number of Jewish communists of Lida joined the ranks of the Red Army, and during the battle made good use of the knowledge of the city and its streets, but their judgment was like the judgment of soldiers. Among them the young Leibele Nipurbeski especially excelled as a brave and fearless warrior.

The Polish population (essentially, mostly Catholic Belorussian, without a defined nationality), rejoiced and was happy.[177] At the same time, the Jews of Lida sat in mourning over 39 sacrifices, who fell at the hands of Polish soldiers and officers after the battles subsided and the retreat of the Red Army, murder for its own sake, an outlet for rampant instincts. Of the 39, we remember some by name: the carpenter Nipurbeski, for the transgression of his son, who fought in the ranks of the Red Army - a Christian neighbor brought to his house the Polish soldiers who murdered him; Yulis Ilotovitz (Christian neighbors informed about him that he was a Communist); Kamionski, the son of the butcher Kamionski, apparently for the transgression of his younger brother Zerach, who joined the Red Army; Yehuda Zeltzshtein, the owner of the hotel “Paris,” who gave hand grenades to soldiers of the Polish Army, which Soviet Army soldiers had placed in his yard; he was commanded to carry the grenades after them, and was found killed afterwards; the old woman Gershovitz, who defended her young son when she said that they should take her life instead of his - the murderers fulfilled her request; Pinchas Vismonski; Yitzchak Katz, the brother-in-law of the miller Melnick; Yehoshua Letuta; Arieh Movshovitz (a teacher of Russian); Nachman Morshtein; Peretz Mikolitzki; Leizer Poltzek (the owner of the Brothers Poltzek sawmill) and his son Yaakov; Lipa Novoprodzki; Shlomo Slonimtzik;[178] Krupski, a guard in the prison that was in Deluskin's yard – to God who knows about what and what! Reb Eliyahu Baram (Eliyahu the chesler) the honest among men, did the last act of lovingkindness for the murdered, took care of them over the course of days, with devotion and in mortal danger, in gathering their bodies and collecting their bones, and bringing them to a Jewish grave.

In those days, there rolled into Lida, as prisoners suspected of communism, the visiting writer Shmuel Niger,[179] and the well-known Zionist activist Leib Yaffe.[180] The rabbi of the place, Reb Aharon Rabinovitz, obtained their release after he testified that he knew the two of them as “decent” men (which is to say, not communists). Regarding Niger, suspicion fell on him because they all called him by that name, at a time when the name on his passport was “Tcharny,”[181] and the rabbi had to explain to the Polish officers that “Niger” was his literary name.

For a few days the Jews of Lida didn't dare to show their faces outside, for fear of the soldiers and officers that were carrying on, except for a few dedicated, brave, businessmen, and at their head was the rabbi of the place, who tried to encourage their Polish friends to influence those in power to impose law and order in the city. And indeed, the commanders came to know that things had gone too far. The First Battalion Commander of the Legionnaires (Peirovshki Folk Legionrov) issued an order forbidding the officers to go out to the street with whips in their hands.[182]

One of the first activities of the renewed Jewish public was the foundation of an orphanage (whose name was “Herzliya”), in which tens of Jewish children, who during the protracted war were orphaned, found shelter and a home, and here they found devoted care by the women of all the groups of Lida. Our friend Chanan-Yishaya Kaminetzki dedicated much attention and devoted work to this institution.

Little by little life returned to a normal pattern.

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The connection to the greater world was renewed; commerce, labor, and manufacturing, awoke. The national movement and Zionism also renewed their activity. Hebrew education, until a certain age, never stopped in Lida, in the old type of traditional cheders, and in the modern cheders (even if they were not proclaimed as “official” with the name “Cheder Metukan”)[183] in which it was already customary to speak in Hebrew, and also in the school that still existed from the time of the German conquest, and now the German language was taken out of it entirely, and the Hebrew language inherited its place in all subjects.

When in April 1920 the information arrived about the decision made in San Remo, to establish a Jewish national home in the land of Israel (on two sides of the Jordan river), and the transmission of the mandate to Great Britain, enormous enthusiasm broke out in the city. On the declaration of Zionist fundraising, a spontaneous movement of “and they took off”[184] began: gold watches, bracelets, rings, and other gold jewelry of all kinds were donated to the “Gold Fund,” and a long list of the donations from the Jews of Lida was published in the Zionist newspaper in Vilna.

That summer, the foundation was laid for the “HeChalutz[185] movement in Lida. A plot of land at the end of Vilneska Street (Sovalska) was leased and Zionist youths who lifted their souls to go up to the land (and what Zionist youth did not aspire to that in those days?) would come here to train themselves, to the limited degrees that were possible, in agricultural work, in guiding young Zionists, workers of the soil from their childhoods (Savitizki, Movshovitz). It is hard to say that there was in this any serious training for agriculture in the land of Israel. In any case, there certainly was in it a kind of mental training for aliyah, providing new meaning to the word “Zionism,” a meaning of “get up and do.”

The Communist Party was forbidden by law. One day the arrest of a group of youths became known, students of the gymnasia, almost all of them Jews, sons of wealthy families, except for one Pole (Kolsinski), who engaged in communist activity. After sitting in the Lida jail for a few months, all these youths were freed, apparently under their parents' guarantee, after the authorities came to know that there was no looming danger to the state from this communist group.


Soviet Rule

The respite that was given to Lida from the tribulations of the war was not long. In summer 1920, the counterattack of the Red Army began, and within a short time the front arrived at the approaches to Lida.

Within the chaos and confusion of the retreat of the Polish army, and the vacating of the government offices, when the thunder of the cannons of the Red Army were getting closer and closer to the city, seven Lida pioneers, whose aliyah was authorized only a few days before, made their way on the Lida-Grodno road. Their meagre bundles, hastily packed, were loaded on the back of a rented farmer's cart, and they were trudging on foot alongside it. These olim[186] were: Eizik Dvoretzky (he was murdered in Haifa in the events of 5696 [1936]), Shaul Meizel (the son of “the Vasilishki teacher”) murdered on Mt. Scopus, where he worked at the Hebrew University; Dov Krupski (Ariav, died on Kibbutz Ein Harod in the month of Shvat, 5728 [1968]), and may they be distinguished for long lives, Mordechai Boyarsky (today in Tel Aviv), Arieh Baran (a typesetter in Zeldovitz Publishing, today in Haifa), Chaim Faimushevitz (really, an actor in the “HaBimah” Theatre), and Shimon Volfinski (today in Hollywood, United States, Ben-Ami). The matter of their tribulations until they arrived in the land is described in the notes of Chaim Amitai in “Aseifot[187] (a compilation of the history of the labor movement in Israel). Number 8, from Nisan 5722 [1962].

Lida again became filled with an abundance of soldiers of all kinds, who streamed endlessly from the east to the west, government offices that employed a large part of the population (incidentally, this was almost the only source of income, and the possibility of obtaining food rations - the “piyuk”) and propaganda.


Children of the Orphanage in the Society of Businessmen and Businesswomen on the Institution (1931)


According to the food menu, this was the period of the “vobla” -

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dried fish, which was fried or boiled (after they removed the worms from it). Yet witty Russians used to say, that the worms that we eat are not terrible etc.”) … Not much more praised was the menu of the soldiers of the Red Army, who dwelt in most of the houses in the city and their courtyards, except for part of the officers and office administrators in the city, whose lot was more improved, and they generously enjoyed the bounty of the storehouses that were found in the city. Compared to this, the authorities saw to the provision of intellectual food in abundance for the soldier and the citizen alike. In Dov Dvoretzky's shop a book warehouse was immediately organized, and in it was an abundance of pamphlets and books (which were permitted to come to the community, of course), from the communist program, the fruit of Bukharin's[188] pen, the speeches of Lenin and Trotzky, and the verses of Demyan Bedny[189] on the issues of the day, and including the writing of Plekhanov[190] and Karl Marx and even fine Russian literature, translated, from the popular to the Bolsheviks. Again there were many propaganda meetings and lectures on popular literature. At one of the meetings that was held in the large market, British and Swedish communists who had returned from a Communist conference in Moscow also lifted up their words. Their words, which were spoken in German and English, were translated on the spot into Russian by the well-known Jewish Communist Reps (while omitting a few details that were undesirable to him). Also not missing was Russian theatre, which accompanied the army on special wagons, and granted excellent performances (on the program: Gogol, Ostrovsky, and even Bernard Shaw) also to the civilian population, for free – according to entry tickets for government workers. An army wall newspaper[191] was the single source of news from the front and from the wider world was printed on a portable press that stood in a special wagon on the train tracks.

But there was every Jewish cultural activity, and there is no need to say nationalist, “who mentioned it?”[192] The Cheka[193] was then in the city… Of the Jewish institutions (and even won, apparently, some government encouragement) the orphanage, and the home for elders, were able to continue their activities. Another society that continued with increased activity was “Chevrat Mit'askim”… The days were days of cucumbers and unripe fruit, which were always also in the same area as the days of dysentery. The lack of foodstuffs and medicines and also the poor sanitary conditions, created favorable conditions for the spread of the disease.


Sovalska Street (Vilner Gasse)


Trotzky passed through the Lida train station on his way to the western front. Communist followers ran to the station to see the esteemed guest. The slogan “Dayush Varshavo” (will you give Warsaw!) was on everyone's lips, but to no avail.

Soviet rule in Lida did not last long this time. The mighty attack of the Red Army was halted, and soon the thunder of shells hurtling through the air above the roofs of the city was again heard in Lida's open spaces, amidst the fire of cannons that were positioned in the suburbs on both sides of it.


After the Polish Conquest

This time the entry of the Polish army into Lida passed without the pogroms that were the pattern of the previous time, but not without the display of coarse antisemitism. For a few days the Jews of Lida shut themselves in their houses, until they dared to emerge into the streets of the city. Nevertheless, things did not happen without blood libels.[194] In the yard of the woman Novoprutzki (the “Rebbetzin,”[195] next to the fort), a Polish soldier was found killed. According to all indications, he had been intentionally dragged into the yard. In any case, the woman was arrested and accused of participation in the killing of the soldier. This was a military trial, and the composition of the court did not promise favors. Apolinary Hartglas,[196] the well-known Zionist leader from Warsaw, a brilliant lawyer who was among the chief speakers in the Polish Sejm on behalf of the Zionist delegates, took on the defense himself. He reviewed the material (which was prepared by the secretary of the temporary community council, Velvel Lando) on the day of the trial, when he came in the morning from Warsaw. In the investigation of the prosecution witnesses, Hartglas discovered obvious contradictions that indicated deliberate staging. The officers who sat in court listened with one ear to the brilliant speech of the defense, which shattered the material of the prosecution into pieces. The judges were not swayed and the judgment was prepared: eight years of imprisonment. The woman collapsed when she heard her sentence. Only a pardon, which was achieved after some time, through Hartglas' efforts, saved her from fulfilling the full punishment.

General Haller's soldiers, who were known for slander, went wild in the city, and their favorite game was cutting of the beards of Jewish men. Once the rabbi of the place, Rabbi Aharon Rabinovitz, was almost a victim of this “innocent game,” were it not for the lawyer Michal Simlevitz, a friend of

[Page 42]

the Jews in general, and a personal friend of the rabbi, who rescued him and took him into his house.

A somewhat extended time passed until law and order prevailed in the city, a regime of minimal security for the Jewish citizen who was passing innocently on the streets of the city.

With the renewal of the free economic life in the city, the Jews of Lida suddenly were faced with a calculated trend from above to deprive them of their status, and if there was not yet a developed class of Polish merchants, there was a need to create one. Various franchises for commerce in beverages and tobacco were distributed to soldiers of the war of Polish independence, as it were, which discriminated to the detriment of the Jewish merchants, and indeed to the Polish gentry (Studovski, Burkovski, and others). Among them there was even one Frenchman who dwelt in Russia all his days, until the revolution, but his Polish wife was from the Lida area (Moshrat). The result was that most of these Poles, who did not have the requisite experience or ability to implement their franchises, took Jews as their partners.[197] Christian cooperatives were established in the city to sell the crops of the farmers who came to the city and for the purchase of their products. However, the motivation for this was not so much the idea of cooperation, but rather the tendency to expropriate the retail and wholesale trade as one from the hands of the Jews, in the spirit of the slogan of antisemitism: “To each his own.” The burden of taxes was also intended to weigh on the Jewish merchant in order to intensify the struggle of the Jew for his livelihood.


The Directors of the Merchants' Bank in Lida
and a Friend of the Workers


Young Jewish Merchants on Market Day, Between the Two World Wars


The Merchants' Bank, the Director with the Workers

First row from right to left: Rubinovitz, Bodin (Hakin) Moshe
Second row: Dov Yosef Kalmanovitz, Duvkovsky, Moshe Levit (the Director), Batya Shapira


The Zionist answer to this situation was aliyah to the land of Israel. And indeed, with the opening of the gates after the World War (the gates of Poland, for exit, were very wide, while the gates to the Land of Israel, for entry, were like the eye of a needle) the aliyah of groups of young people from Lida began. However, after everything, there was in this a solution for only tens, because of the restrictions on the part of the British Mandatory government,[198] but also, due to the lack of preparation to start life in a new way. Migration to the Unites State was also renewed, within the limited restrictions of the quota that was determined each year.

At the end of the matter, the size of the Jewish population in Lida remained the same as before. Incidentally, a certain growth occurred on the heels of the return of war refugees from Russia, and a slight decline subsequent to aliyah to the land of Israel and emigration to countries in the west.

To our sorrow, we don't have statistical numbers on the professional composition of the Jewish population in Lida before the world war, and after. However, we imagine that we would not err if we say that many of the youths were fed up with their parents' ways of earning a living,

and that the trend towards production increased. Tens of Jewish youths were registered for courses in electrotechnics, which were developed in the city by a German engineer who remained in Lida after the end of the German conquest. The streaming of Lida youth to the training kibbutzim of “HeChalutz” also bore witness to this trend. The direct motivation here was nationalistic idealism, yet certainly, there was here an economic basis.

The trend towards production was manifested in Lida

[Page 43]

in the increase of the new Jewish factories. We will mention a few of them: the weaving factory (founded by Zhyzhemski, may his memory be for a blessing, and his brother-in-law Levin, may he be distinguished for a long life), the great flour mill “Avtomat,” the olive press “Oil,” the nail factory “Drot Industry,” the chemical factory, the soft drink factory “Gazaz,” the factory for felt shoes (Violaykes) and others. At the initiative of the Kushelevitz brothers, in 1928, the factory for rubber shoes was established, “Erdle,” which was intended from the start to employ from 10 to about 100 male and female workers. Over the course of time, after various incarnations, it fell into the hands of the Warsaw financier, Solomon Maloup. It was expanded and improved, and on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War, employed about 1000 workers, and became an important factor in the economic life of the city. The initiators and founders of the plant, the Kushelevitz brothers, after their retirement from it, established a factory for various rubber products, hoses and the like.


A Typical Wood House in Lida from Before “The Great Fire”
(The picture is the handiwork of a soldier-artist
from the period of the First World War)


Kamionka Street (May 3rd)



  1. Original footnote 48: See entry in this book. Return
  2. Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 21a:11 “…jealousy among teachers increases wisdom.” Return
  3. This phrase, in place of “may his/her memory be for a blessing,” denotes those who were murdered by the Nazis. Return
  4. https://www.jewishvirtualmuseum.com/artist/hermann-struck/ Return
  5. German: School Master. Return
  6. In the language of Psalm 126:2. Return
  7. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-balfour-declaration Return
  8. Russian: “Well done!” Return
  9. City Governor. Return
  10. In German. Return
  11. Literally, letters of the “Kiddush Levana” prayer, the blessing for the moon, which in the Siddur is printed in extra-large letters, because it is said outside in the light of the moon. Return
  12. Original footnote 49: Today in Israel, on one of the kibbutzim. Return
  13. The Russian letter Yat (ѣ) was challenging for schoolchildren for many years, since it was necessary to memorize the difficult rules of its use and a long list of words in which it was written. Compared to other letters deleted from everyday life, it lasted a long time as part of the Russian alphabet. By the end of the 19th century, its pronunciation practically did not differ from the pronunciation of the English vowel E. Return
  14. From 1 Samuel 10:22, describing Saul: “They inquired of the LORD again, “Has anyone else come here?” And the Lord replied, “Yes; he is hiding among the baggage.” Return
  15. Original footnote 50: With one exception – a son of our city Moshe Epstein (now in Haifa) who spoke fluent Hebrew, with his declaration that this was his language, and who would prevent him from speaking his language? Incidentally, in the days of the German conquest, he was subject to a short detention for his declaration in front of one of the men of the government “We, Jews, will not give ourselves to the German.” Return
  16. From the book of Esther 8:15. Return
  17. Original footnote 51: The details of the cruel murder of this martyr were transmitted to us by his grandson, a son of our city, Arieh Zablodovski: On the first day of the entry of the Polish Army into Lida, about 39 Jews from among the residents of our city were murdered, and among them, my grandfather, Reb Shlomo son of Zusya Zablodovski. And this is how it was: my grandfather's house, a house built of wooden beams, stood on the border of the grazing fields which were called by the name “Vyein.” It was a long, single-story house, and in it were two apartments and a stable. My parents lived in one apartment, and Grandfather and his household in the second. Since the house stood almost outside of the city, the first soldiers who entered the city passed by our house. And here a group of army men entered our house and asked for food. It is understood that all that was in the house – it was during the festival of Pesach – they brought to the table. When they had eaten their fill, they began to search for various items. One officer saw a raincoat and wanted it. Grandfather, who was by nature a strong and proud Jew, said that it belonged to him and that he didn't want to give it. The officer commanded to take Grandfather and left soldiers in the house to prevent members of the household from accompanying him. I snuck out of the house and went behind them at a distance, and since I was a small child, they didn't see me. From afar I saw that they had reached, with Grandfather, until just before the old age home, which stood adjacent to the synagogue of the “Mit'askim.” There the officer drew his weapon and let loose a burst of bullets at Grandfather. Grandfather knelt down and fell into the ditch, feeling thirst, apparently, and began to take a handful of the water in the ditch, to quench his thirst. The officer approached alongside him, aimed his revolver right at his head, and shot one last additional bullet at him. These were the Poles who fought for freedom of their nation and their land. Return
  18. Shmuel Niger (pseudonym of Shmuel Tsharny) was a Yiddish literary critic, born in 1883 in Dukor, near Minsk. He died in 1955 in New York City. Return
  19. Leib Yaffe was born in Grodno, Belarus in 1876. A life-long Zionist activist, he immigrated to Palestine in 1920, where he became chief editor of Haaretz. He founded and served as director-general of Keren Hayesod. Return
  20. Both Niger and Tcharny mean black. Return
  21. Original footnote 51a: The writer of these lines read this order in its source, when in a strange event there fell into his hand, at the time of his own service in the Polish army, in that same battalion (even then - the Infantry Battalion 41), the book of orders of the Battalion Commander from that tragic period. Return
  22. An improved school that combined traditional studies in Torah and Talmud with secular studies taught in Hebrew. Return
  23. Regarding the contributions that children of Israel made to build the Tabernacle, Exodus 32:3 “And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.” Return
  24. The Pioneer. Return
  25. Those making aliyah to the land of Israel. Return
  26. “Gatherings” Return
  27. Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin was born in 1888 and died in 1938 in Moscow), He was a Bolshevik and Marxist theoretician and economist, and a prominent leader of the Communist International (Comintern). Return
  28. Demyan Bedny, byname of Yefim Alekseyevich Pridvorov, born 1883, in Gubovka, Ukraine, Russian Empire, and died 1945, in Barvikha, near Moscow. He was a Soviet poet known for his verses glorifying the Revolution of 1917 and for his satirical fables. Return
  29. Georgy Valentinovich Plekhanov, born 1856 in Gudalovka, Russia, and died 1918 in Terioki, Finland, now Zelenogorsk, Russia. He was a Marxist theorist, the founder and long-time leading exponent of the Marxist movement in Russia. A Menshevik, he opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917. Return
  30. A hand-lettered or printed newspaper designed to be displayed and read in public places both indoors and outdoors, utilizing vertical surfaces such as walls, boards, and fences. Return
  31. In Aramaic, from the Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 37b:8. Return
  32. The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission, abbreviated as VChK, and commonly known as Cheka, was the first of a succession of Soviet secret-police organizations. Return
  33. The allegation that Jews murder Christians, especially children, to obtain their blood for the making of Passover matzah or other rituals. Most blood libels occur close to Passover. This is basically an extension of the belief that Jews had been and still were responsible for the death of Jesus. Return
  34. Usually in this context referring to the Rabbi's wife. Return
  35. 1883–1953, a Zionist, attorney, and Polish parliament deputy. Born in Biala Podlaska to an assimilated Jewish family. From 1892 to 1900, he attended a Russian high school and then studied law at the Russian University in Warsaw. He joined the Zionist movement in the Polish Kingdom, editing the first Zionist journals there, with Yitzcḥak Grünbaum. Return
  36. Original footnote 52: In this way there arose a series of Christian-Jewish partnerships: Sadovski - Reizman and Partners, Rodziki – Darshan, Yanosheitis-Vilentzik, Moshrat-Darshan-Kushelevitz, and more. Return
  37. The British Mandate of Palestine lasted from 1923-1948. Throughout this period the Mandate sought to severely limit Jewish immigration into Palestine. Return


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